Biden rescinds Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy involving family separations at US-Mexico border

Administration has sought to reverse core elements of predecessor’s anti-immigration agenda

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 26 January 2021 23:00

Related: Construction halted on Trump’s US-Mexico border wall project

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President Joe Biden has revoked the “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting immigrants who illegally crossed the US-Mexico border for illegal entry, separating thousands of children from their families, according to the Associated Press.

Most families have not been prosecuted under the Donald Trump-era policy since 2018, when the administration halted the policy. But rescinding the policy is likely to prevent the prosecution of individuals who cross the border seeking asylum.

In a memo obtained by the Associated Press, Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson has instructed federal prosecutors to resume the “longstanding principle of making individualised assessments in criminal cases” in his announcement to rescind the directive.

The measure follows several orders under the incoming administration within the president’s first week in office to reverse core elements of his predecessor’s anti-immigration agenda, including freezing construction of Mr Trump’s border wall project and overturning a ban on US entry from majority-Muslim countries.

Read more: Follow live updates from the Biden administration

Justice Department watchdogs found that administration officials overseeing the "zero tolerance” policy at the US-Mexico border under then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, with aid from adviser Stephen Miller, had failed to implement the order or manage the chaotic fallout, while knowing it would result in separated families and imprisoned children. 

The agency's "single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions" of immigrant families crossing the southern border "came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact of family unit prosecutions and child separations", according to the report released this month.

A separate report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that many of the children who were separated from their families at the border, after fleeing their countries and enduring dangerous journeys to the US, had suffered post-traumatic stress symptoms and other health issues.

Roughly 5,500 children were separated under the Trump administration; many of their parents and families were deported without them. More than 500 children are still waiting to be reunited with their families.

Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees condemned the previous administration’s “chaos, cruelty, and reckless disregard for vulnerable children in our nation’s custody” outlined in the Justice Department report.

Lawmakers have also urged the president to create a task force to begin reuniting children with their families.

The president has pledged to "start the difficult but critical work of reuniting families separated at the border" between 25 January and 1 February, according to his chief of staff Ron Klain.

On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked the president’s 100-day moratorium on certain deportations.

US District Judge Drew Tipton of the Southern District of Texas agreed to pause the directive for at least 14 days while he considers a lawsuit from Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, who filed a complaint last week that Mr Biden’s order violates immigration law and a settlement his state had brokered with the previous administration.

The moratorium has sought to prevent most immigrants facing deportations from removal, as long as they entered the US before 1 November 2020 and are not considered a national security risk.

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